Frank Gosar Makes an Adventurous and Artistic Life out of Clay

Wednesday, January 10, 2024
Frank Gosar

Whimsical but functional stoneware pottery works by Frank Gosar ’81, produced in his studio in Eugene, Ore., will fill the third-floor gallery of the Fine Arts Center for an exhibition running Jan. 31–March 27. The exhibit brings Gosar’s artistic story full circle, considering he created his first pottery as a junior at Viterbo.

Frank Gosar loading the kiln
It's been 30 years since Frank Gosar opened his pottery studio, Off-Center Ceramics, in Eugene, Ore. The website offers exceptional insights into the life of a professional potter through his blog entries.

Also featured in the exhibit, titled Desk and Table, will be handmade books and other paper art works by his wife, Denise. They both will be on hand for an artist reception from 4–6 p.m. Friday, Feb. 2. In addition, he will lead a ceramics workshop from 4:30–6:30 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 6, while she will lead a sketchbook workshop the same day from 1:30–3:30 p.m.

Gosar demonstrated exceptional talent in drawing, painting, and photography as a Viterbo student, but he was no whiz kid at pottery when he first took it up. “I was the world’s worst pottery student. I couldn’t get the hang of centering the clay on the wheel,” Gosar recalled in a recent phone interview. “Once I figured it out, I fell in love with it. Pottery was the one art form where the process was as much fun as the product.”

Growing up on a central Wisconsin farm, the third of six children, Gosar graduated from Greenwood High School in 1977 as a National Merit Scholar. That gave him plenty of options for colleges. He decided to visit Viterbo because he had earned a scholarship thanks to his high school team’s success on High Quiz Bowl, a TV show sponsored by Viterbo.

“My first impression when I visited Viterbo was they really got me,” Gosar said. “And it was a small enough school where you could get to know people and get involved in stuff.”

Frank Gosar in 1978 Viterbo yearbook
Frank Gosar in 1978 Viterbo yearbook

Gosar did get involved in a lot of “stuff,” most notably drawing illustrations for the yearbook and regular cartoons for The Lumen. He majored in art, but he also majored in mathematics, which he said isn’t as strange as it sounds.

“There’s a certain aesthetic to a really elegant proof in mathematics that is like an artistic response,” he said.

For further proof of his status as a true renaissance man, let’s note here that he was the first undergrad student to team teach a Viterbo class (the subject was speculative fiction). Oh, and he had a local public radio show telling children’s stories that led to him writing and recording two albums of children’s songs with Hans Mayer: My Brother Eats Bugs and When I’m Feeling Silly.

When Gosar graduated from Viterbo, he stuck around for a few years, working as a graphic artist for the college’s news and publications department. After his experience teaching literature as a student, he started a community reading group that met on campus, and that’s how he met his wife, a wildlife biologist who was working for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service at the time.

Owls on Frank Gosar stoneware

All the while, Gosar’s passion for pottery continued to grow. In time, he said, “my pottery habit started getting in the way of my day job.”

Gosar followed his pottery muse to the University of Oregon, where he earned a Master of Fine Arts degree and taught ceramics for 10 years. He also honed his chops on the wheel by doing piece work for a commercial ceramics studio. He recalls making nine dozen hummingbird feeders a week there and more than twice as many spoon rests weekly.

“That’s why I am never going to make another spoon rest … EVER!” he said.

True to form, Gosar had to get more art in his life than just pottery soon after he moved to Oregon. He hosted a weekly Saturday noon show called The Saturday Café on the Eugene public radio station, KLCC.

Frank Gosar sculpture, "Baba Yaga Takes an Apprentice"
Frank Gosar does an occasional clay sculpture. This one is called "Baba Yaga Takes an Apprentice"

Gosar hosted the show from 1990 to 2015, featuring folk musicians and singer-songwriters, with many touring artists stopping by for live interviews and performances. The show gave him a chance to talk with and have a private concert with some of his favorite artists, he said, mentioning Garnet Rogers and Bob Franke, in particular.

“That was a huge amount of fun,” Gosar said. “As a formerly shy person, it was a great opportunity to ask impertinent questions of my heroes.”

In 1993, the Gosars started their own studio, Off-Center Ceramics, starting with a product line that included cow and cat mugs, pig and elephant banks, pie plates, vases and baking dishes. The studio has diversified greatly since then, with well over a hundred items and patterns, most of them featuring Gosar’s paintings of all manner of animals.

Gosar is a regular at the summer Eugene Saturday Market, the country's oldest open-air craft market, and he takes the show on the road a few times a year these days, down from the eight road shows a year he used to do.

“I’ve been at it so long, I’m selling pots to the grandchildren of people I sold pots to. I’m very much the family potter for a lot of families,” he said. “It’s strange having to get used to being a revered elder potter.”